Pourquoi y a-t-il quelque chose plutôt que rien?

A belief in the existence of the material world is impossible to justify using reason. When I get lost in thoughts on that subject, what happens to me always when I wonder about it, I come to a conclusion that everything we see is a mere phenomenon, that there is nothing outside of us that relates to our fantasies, and I always go back to this question of the Indian king: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

Jean d’Alembert – Letters to Voltaire

Honesty of thought

What had availed the fact that I had at least tried to make my thought honest? Indeed, what did we mean by honesty of thought? Was not that, too, vainglory and pride and delusion? What man – or, indeed, what beast – cared about such a bloodless abstraction, when he was warm in his bed, well fed, with his well-beloved close to him, comforting him and transforming existence from its original emptiness to an eternal triumph of comradeship and love? Why had we been created at all, if this agony of isolation could be our lot? How cheap seemed the agnosticism of youth, and yet how hopeless now to try to repudiate its skepticism. I could not say – I tried and tried again – “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” That was weakness and a desire to return to the warm protective womb.

I had tasted of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and now, when so passionately I wanted to sink back into a kind of animal faith, I could not. I could do nothing; thought availed not at all, except to sharpen and intensify the sense of impotence and helplessness and depersonalization. Things – even the rocks and the sea – and myself were in the same blind, sensless category of non-being, of eternal death – made all the more piercing to us by the transient illusion of existence.

Yet if existence is only an illusion, perhaps no reality is stronger than it seems to be; its validity lies in that seeming. For where else could it lie? In an external world, the very awareness of which is necessarily a part of our limitations? There was no clear answer. I was caught in the old solipsistic net. Nor could I extricate myself from it – that is, so long as the pain of knowing I was aware (or the burden of consciousness, if you wish) could not be assuaged.

Harold E. Stearns – The Street I Know: The Autobiography of the Last of the Bohemians

The Best of All Possible Worlds

The claim that beliefs in themselves do not have a grain of truth, and at the same time that an important or even guiding social role of religion is to meet the needs of cognition, is logically impeccable. We never lack arguments to justify the doctrine in which, for whatever reason, we want to believe.

Of course, faith would not be needed, if the course of world affairs applied directly and reliably to the norms of justice, as this would mean that we live in Paradise. Adam and Eve did not believe in the existence of God in the sense in which their descendants believed, as they lived in a real theocracy under direct and visible rule of God.

There is no such thing as rational worship. If we talk about God’s qualities and works as objects that can be conceptually separated, it is only because in this way our finite minds try to capture Infinity, which we can not understand.

Neither party was convinced, nor will probably ever find the arguments of the opposing party convincing, which is also a common fate of all the fundamental questions in philosophy for the past twenty-five centuries.

Leszek Kolakowski – Religion: If there is no God

Sentimental Journey

According to ancient Chinese, Indo-Iranian and African beliefs, the house of creator gods, of the Supreme Mystery, was the sky, fathomed as a stone vault. Perhaps this belief goes back to those times, when a man took to decorating caves, to study their insides, when he crawled in the dark rock corridors searching for the mystery of being, an explanation for everything, when watching how a new life grew from the ground, he gave to the ground the lives of the dead – their bodies, when in his mind a vague idea of ​​the afterlife was perceived, because was it possible for life to lead nowhere? To nowhere? – he could not understand that.

Instinct told him that the earth and life had some relationship. What kind of? The answers may be sought in the depths of the caves, the questions put to the heavens, which from time to time send down fire, rain, wind. Is heaven a great vault, similar to the vaults of caves? And if so, then heaven must contain great mysteries, like those that are hidden in the inaccessible interior of the earth.

He was close to finding the future house of gods, whom he must create, to give the foundation of knowledge about the world and about his genre. 35 000 years ago, a man did not know yet how his gods will look like.

Jerzy Cepik – How man made gods

On Truth and Lies

To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor. The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor. And each time there is a complete overleaping of one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one.

One can imagine a man who is totally deaf and has never had a sensation of sound and music. Perhaps such a person will gaze with astonishment at Chladni’s sound figures; perhaps he will discover their causes in the vibrations of the string and will now swear that he must know what men mean by “sound.”

It is this way with all of us concerning language; we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things–metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities.

Friedrich Nietzsche – On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense

In Captivity of Habits

Pure experience informs us about permanent sequences of facts; but does not tell us that one fact results from the other. If you pull the trigger of a shotgun, you will hear a shot; but what we really find is that there has been a shot after pulling the trigger, not that it arose from, not that was its effect. How it happens, that one fact follows the other, is not given by the experience; so if we have to stick closely to the experience, we must renounce causal connections, and be content with just setting permanent sequences. It was the most unexpected and unique thesis by Hume.

There is, therefore, no basis to recognize causal relationships as necessary: ​​neither rational, nor experiential. And yet in life and in science we always recognize them, and we expect that when the cause happened, inevitably too the effect will happen. Such attitude of mind requires explanation; it was, in turn, a new issue for Hume: why, although we have no basis for this, we recognize the existence of causal relationships?

We do this because we rely on previously gathered experience and we move this experience ahead. So far, after pulling the trigger of a shotgun, the shot fell, so we think it will continue to be the same. But in doing so, we no longer stay within the limits of pure experience, but we cross them. These two sentences are by no means equivalent: “I found that this object here is accompanied by such a result” and “I expect that other objects, which, as far as we know them, are similar to that, will be accompanied by similar effects.” From one of these sentences to the other we would go only through reasoning, but is there such reasoning? Do we have the right to extend into the future our previously gathered experience?

There is no reasoning, which entitles to extend the existing experience into the future. There is no contradiction in the assumption that although certain event had some result, a similar event will have a different result. Moving the experience to the future is not done by reasoning, but by a factor of a different kind altogether; the conclusions from cause to effect are not a matter of reasoning. These are the matter of habit.

Constant repetition of certain relations changes nothing in the nature of these relations, but changes our attitude towards them. In the mind, it produces the tendency to expect further repetitions. Since we are used that after pulling the trigger, a shot falls, we think it will continue to be so. But the basis for this conclusion is purely subjective. Although this inclination has a certain objective basis, namely regularity in the occurrence of the relations previously observed; but precisely this basis alone is insufficient to draw conclusions. The actual basis for the conclusion is not objective, but subjective, and it is emotional, not conceptual. The inference here is an act of faith, not the act of knowledge.

The sense of necessity is not the basis for our conclusions, but their outcome; the greater it is, the more conclusions we have drawn. The search for causal conclusions is the instinct that nature has given us. It gave us the instinct without giving the understanding. We conclude about future things without knowing the basis of our conclusions, just as we can move without the knowledge of muscles. But instinct is not knowledge.

Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz – History of Philosophy Volume II Modern Philosophy until 1830.

Brain in a Vat

Thought experiment: the brain is closed in the dish and stimulated by an apparatus connected to receive stimuli. This apparatus (or scientist through it) creates a perfectly coherent illusion of the existence of persons, objects of everyday experience (however, all experiences are actually the result of electrical impulses sent by the computer). You can go ahead and assume that all people (all sensory organisms) are the brains (nervous systems) in the vessels connected to the system that generates a collective hallucination.

Hilary Putnam

Habitual Beliefs of Age or Nation

The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given.

Bertrand Russell – The Problems of Philosophy


The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which early in the morning had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? Go ye also into the vineyard.

So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.

But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

Matthew 20:1-16

Behold the Man

“God,” “immortality of the soul,” “redemption,” “the next world,” all concepts to which I have given no attention, no time either, even as a child — perhaps I was not childish enough for them? I am too curious, too incredulous, too supercilious to put up with a rude and crude answer. God is a rude and crude answer, an indelicacy to us thinkers — basically even a rude and crude prohibition to us: thou shalt not think!…

Friedrich Nietzsche – Ecce Homo

Madness of Authorities

In contrast to others he set his face against all discussion of such high matters as the nature of the Universe; how the “cosmos” came into being; or by what forces the celestial phenomena arise. To trouble one’s brain about such matters was, he argued, to play the fool.

He was astonished they did not see how far these problems lay beyond mortal ken; since even those who pride themselves most on their discussion of these points differ from each other, as madmen do.

He set his face against attempts to excogitate the machinery by which the divine power formed its several operations. Not only were these matters beyond man’s faculties to discover, as he believed, but the attempt to search out what the gods had not chosen to reveal could hardly be well pleasing in their sight. Indeed, the man who tortured his brains about such subjects stood a fair chance of losing his wits entirely.

Xenophon – Memorabilia


Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it.

It was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.

Hans Christian Andersen – The Little Match Girl

Insufferable Negligence

Błażej Pascal - francuski matematyk, fizyk i religijny filozof

We know well enough how those who are of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction, when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture, and have questioned some priest on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all.

Let them at least learn what is the religion they attack, before attacking it. If this religion boasted of having a clear view of God, and of possessing it open and unveiled, it would be attacking it to say that we see nothing in the world which shows it with this clearness. But since, on the contrary, it says that men are in darkness and estranged from God, that He has hidden Himself from their knowledge, that this is in fact the name which He gives Himself in the Scriptures, D e u s  a b s c o n d i t u s [Isaiah 45:15, a God who hides Himself] – what advantage can they obtain, when, in the negligence with which they make profession of being in search of the truth, they cry out that nothing reveals it to them?

Blaise Pascal – Pensées

Talking to a Peasant

For the generality of men God is the provider of immortality. Talking to a peasant one day, I proposed to him the hypothesis that there might indeed be a God who governs heaven and earth, a Consciousness of the Universe, but that for all that the soul of every man may not be immortal in the traditional and concrete sense. He replied:

Then wherefore God?

Miguel de Unamuno – The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and in Peoples

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

I’m now almost convinced of it. It seemed clear that life and the world were now as if dependent on me. One might even say that the world was now as if made for me alone: I’d shoot myself and there would be no more world, at least for me. Not to mention that maybe there would indeed be nothing for anyone after me, and that as soon as my consciousness was extinguished, the whole world would be extinguished at once, like a phantom, like a mere accessory of my consciousness, it would be done away with, for maybe all this world and all these people were – just myself alone.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

The Grand Inquisitor

‘Judge Thyself who was right — Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words, was this: ‘Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread — for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread.’

But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee. Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.’

They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man?

So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Brothers Karamazov

The Uncertainty Principle

In order to predict the future position and velocity of a particle, one has to be able to measure its present position and velocity accurately. The obvious way to do this is to shine light on the particle. Some of the waves of light will be scattered by the particle and this will indicate its position. However, one will not be able to determine the position of the particle more accurately than the distance between the wave crests of light, so one needs to use light of a short wavelength in order to measure the position of the particle precisely. One cannot use an arbitrarily small amount of light; one has to use at least one quantum. This quantum will disturb the particle and change its velocity in a way that cannot be predicted. moreover, the more accurately one measures the position, the shorter the wavelength of the light that one needs and hence the higher the energy of a single quantum. So the velocity of the particle will be disturbed by a larger amount.

In other words, the more accurately you try to measure the position of the particle, the less accurately you can measure its speed, and vice versa. Heisenberg showed that the uncertainty in the position of the particle times the uncertainty in its velocity times the mass of the particle can never be smaller than a certain quantity, which is known as Planck’s constant. Moreover, this limit does not depend on the way in which one tries to measure the position or velocity of the particle, or on the type of particle: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is a fundamental, inescapable property of the world.

The uncertainty principle had profound implications for the way in which we view the world. Even after more than eighty years they have not been fully appreciated by many philosophers, and are still the subject of much controversy. The uncertainty principle signaled an end to a model of the universe that would be completely deterministic: one certainly cannot predict future events exactly if one cannot even measure the present state of the universe precisely!

In general, quantum mechanics does not predict a single definite result for an observation. Instead, it predicts a number of different possible outcomes and tells us how likely each of these is. That is to say, if one made the same measurement on a large number of similar systems, each of which started off in the same way, one would find that the result of the measurement would be A in a certain number of cases, B in a different number, and so on. One could predict the approximate number of times that the result would be A or B, but one could not predict the specific result of an individual measurement. Quantum mechanics therefore introduces an unavoidable element of unpredictability or randomness into science.

Stephen W. Hawking – A Brief History of Time


There is no point in talking to someone who seriously claims that he doubts everything, as he is not a man. He is, as Aristotle expressed, similar to the trunk (φυτού ὅμοιος). He is not fit to become a philosopher. He is rather teasing for the sake of teasing. Jewish philosopher, Saadija Fajjumi from the tenth century, in his work “Knowledge of faith and philosophy” advises to starve such men and beat them with sticks until they acknowledge that they consciously and definitely feel hunger and pain. Truly that is an effective means to bring them to repentance.

Franciszek Kwiatkowski – Perennial philosophy

Faith of the Crowd

Crowds are only cognizant of simple and extreme sentiments; the opinions, ideas, and beliefs suggested to them are accepted or rejected as a whole, and considered as absolute truths or as not less absolute errors. This is always the case with beliefs induced by a process of suggestion instead of engendered by reasoning. Every one is aware of the intolerance that accompanies religious beliefs, and of the despotic empire they exercise on men’s minds. Fanaticism is the necessary accompaniment of the religious sentiment. It is inevitably displayed by those who believe themselves in the possession of the secret of earthly or eternal happiness.

Authoritativeness and intolerance are sentiments of which crowds have a very clear notion, which they easily conceive and which they entertain as readily as they put them in practice when once they are imposed upon them. Crowds exhibit a docile respect for force, and are but slightly impressed by kindness, which for them is scarcely other than a form of weakness. Their sympathies have never been bestowed on easy-going masters, but on tyrants who vigorously oppressed them.

A crowd may be guilty of murder, incendiarism, and every kind of crime, but it is also capable of very lofty acts of devotion, sacrifice, and disinterestedness, of acts much loftier indeed than those of which the isolated individual is capable. Appeals to sentiments of glory, honour, and patriotism are particularly likely to influence the individual forming part of a crowd, and often to the extent of obtaining from him the sacrifice of his life. How numerous are the crowds that have heroically faced death for beliefs, ideas, and phrases that they scarcely understood!

Gustave Le Bon – The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind